Minoan Horns of Consecration: A Reevaluation of Their Origins, Symbolism, and Importance
in the Minoan State Formation

Sarah L. Ward (University of Arizona)

Some of the most ubiquitous images in the catalogue of Minoan art and architecture are the Horns of Consecration, and yet, they have received very little attention as iconographical entities of their own. This paper will examine the origins and use of the symbol of the Horns of Consecration and its role in the evolution of the Minoan civilization into a complex society.  Scholarship on Bronze Age art and religion tends to automatically characterize these sculptures as a stylized facsimile of the omnipresent bull and provides scarce evidence for possible alternatives to the significance of these forms. Horns of Consecration are often merely a footnote in the volumes of studies written on Minoan symbolism.

It is difficult to deny an obvious association with the bull, but it is equally complicated to dismiss the spatial importance of the Horns of Consecration.  In most known representations, they dominate the architectural space.  These spaces are those that have been defined by modern scholars as either palatial structures or tripartite shrines.  Monumentality is an architectural element that has been an indication of power and wealth common to almost all ancient and modern civilizations.  The size and occurrences of Horns of Consecration and their palatial contexts indicate symbols that hold a greater political and cultural significance than merely decorative allusions to the much-speculated bull cult. 

The appearance and development of the Horns of Consecration can be traced in one specific area of Minoan religion: the peak sanctuary.  Although often perceived as mere extensions of the palace, many peak sanctuaries predate the palatial period.  However, the number of these sanctuaries remaining in frequent use decreases significantly after the rise of the palaces.  Likewise, Horns of Consecration only appear at peak sanctuaries after the palaces have “co-opted” them.  They are primitive abstractions that became not only symbols of institutionalized religion but also a sign of the new power of the palace and the formation of a Minoan state.

Back to 2007 Meeting Home Page

[Home] [ About] [Awards and Scholarships] [Classical Journal] [Committees & Officers]
[Contacts & Email Directory
] [CPL] [Links] [Meetings] [Membership] [News]